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Things to do and see in Amsterdam

clock 1st September 2015 | comment0 Comments

Amsterdam is one of the most unique cities in the whole of Europe.

Interspersed with canals and a hugely liberal way of life, the Dutch capital tends to be high up on many a bucket list. Originally developed as a small fishing village in the 12th century, Amsterdam has turned into one of the most cosmopolitan, hippest places you're likely to find. It even boasts a small medieval centre which has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Many River cruises of both the Danube and the Rhine begin in Amsterdam offering the perfect way to start your adventure by exploring this magnificent city.

So what is there to do for a day or two in Amsterdam? Here are our suggestions of what's not to be missed before you set sail through the rest of Europe.

Rijksmuseum

Rijksmuseum museum Amsterdam

Start your day with a trip to the Rijksmuseum, the largest of its kind in the whole of the Netherlands. Opened in 1800, it began life as home to a collection of art from all over the country. It moved around quite a bit during its early days before finally relocating to its current home in 1885, a building designed by Dutch architect Petrus J.H. Cuypers in a neo-Renaissance style.

Many recognise Rijksmuseum as being one of the most breathtaking in all of Europe and it is in the enviable position of displaying some world renowned pieces of art. Amongst the amazing collection of around 8,000 objects is Rembrandt's 'Night Watch' as well as several paintings by Vermeer, van Dyck and Jan Steen.

You will also be able to visit the newest exhibits following the museum's ten-year renovation, which was completed in April 2013.

It is open throughout the year with entrance charged at around €17.50 (£12).

Van Gogh Museum

Right at the top of many people's to-do lists when they come to Amsterdam is visiting the Van Gogh Museum. Honouring one of the most well-known and popular artists the world has ever seen, this is a showcase of Vincent van Gogh's (1853-1890) very best work. From paintings to drawings to letters, no stone is left unturned when discovering his incredible artwork.

Opened in 1973, the museum has quickly become one of the most popular in Europe with 1.6 million people visiting it every year. There are over 200 paintings and 500 drawings of Van Gogh's housed here, along with other works from fellow Impressionists and Post-impressionists around at the same time.

The museum is charted chronologically representing different periods in Van Gogh's life - The Netherlands, Paris, Arles, Saint-Remy and Auvers-sur-Oise. They are set in a wonderful space meaning you can take your time simply admiring this great collection of work.

Open throughout the year admission is around €17.

Oude Kerk

If you are looking for more of a spiritual experience then head to De Oude Kerk (The Old Church). Ironically situated in Amsterdam's Red Light District, this huge, monumental church is a symbol of the national character of Dutch Protestantism. It also symbolises the tradition and the present-day of the city.

Standing in the city since 1213, Oude Kerk is one of the very few Protestant churches with unique architecture. From the sculpted misericords in the choir to the impressive gravestones that line its floor, it really is a sight to behold. The focal point of the church is the 17th century grand organ which plays a major part in a series of concerts throughout the year.

Oude Kerk opens all year round with admission prices starting from €5.

Anne Frank House

Canal at Anne Frank house


Tucked in an unassuming Amsterdam suburb is the home of Anne Frank. The building at Prinsengracht 263 became a residence synonymous with the second world war and the Nazis' occupation of the city. Anne lived there for over two years with her family writing a diary to account the goings-on of the time.

Being sheltered there, they were exposed in August 1944 and deported to various concentration camps, with only Otto Frank of the group surviving the war and going on to have his daughter's diary published. In 1960, the home was converted into a museum and visitors are able to see into the exact room where the Frank family hid from the oppression of the Nazis.

While the room remains empty, visitors will still feel the atmosphere of the time.

Amsterdam Brown Cafes and Canal Walks

Amsterdam canals


With a long day of sightseeing behind you, it is time to relax a little and unwind and this is where Amsterdam comes into its own. There are over 1,500 restaurants, cafes and bars dotted across the city but for a true taste of local way of life is to visit one of the many brown cafes.

They are a quintessential side of Amsterdam culture. Known as bruine kroeg in Dutch, they are characterised by their dark wood interiors and smoke-stained walls. Relax with a wide selection of beers and borrel hapjes (typical bar snacks), before moving on to a restaurant later on in the evening.

Crown your day in Amsterdam with a stroll under the stars as you wander through the canals, just keep an eye out for hurried cyclists. Biking is a very popular form of transport in the city.

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River cruising on a budget

clock 20th August 2015 | comment2 Comments

River cruising is a great way to see the world whether exploring Europe's hidden gems or embracing the culture of Southeast Asia.


A week or two-week long trip will take you to some of the places you may have never considered venturing before. Cruises along rivers like the Rhine and Danube bring the rich histories of Eastern Europe to life, whilst river cruising Asia gives you a real sense of being an intrepid explorer.

There is a common view with many of those who have never been on a river cruise before, that river cruising is expensive. However, many river cruise lines are All Inclusive and include excursions. If you consider the cost of an All Inclusive ocean cruise, plus the total price on average of an excursion in each destination, the price of river cruising compared with ocean cruising soon even out. As with ocean cruising, there are different classes of staterooms for every budget and with a bit of careful planning you can ensure you enjoy your holiday without the fear of overspending. Here are our tips for a cost-effective cruise to some of the most picturesque places in the world.

 

Pick an all inclusive river cruise

 

Scenic river cruise ship



When picking your cruise make sure that you opt for an all-inclusive option. This means you won't have to worry about any extra expenditure whilst onboard. The majority of river cruise lines will offer all-inclusive holidays which cover essentials such as breakfast, lunch and dinner, drinks, evening entertainment and a number of excursions.

If you can, look for cruises that will include flights and transfers within the price. For example, many of the Rhine cruises begin in Amsterdam so you will need to either fly or catch the Eurostar to the Dutch capital. Having this cost included can be a weight off your mind and one less thing to organise.

Seek out free attractions

 

Cologne Germany



Aside from the organised excursions included in the price of your cruise, you can save a bit of cash by seeking out the free attractions. Luckily, no matter what city your boat docks at there will be plenty of things to see and do completely free of charge.

Take Cologne, for example, this major city sits on the banks of the mighty Rhine in the North Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany. Its landscape is dominated by the imposing Do, a cathedral regarded as a focal point of the city. What makes it even better for tourists is that it is free, allowing people to wander around this magnificent Gothic structure for as long as they like.

Other favourites along traditional river cruise routes are the German National Museum of Contemporary History in Bonn, Begijnhof in Amsterdam and Geldmuseum in Vienna, all free of charge.

Sample delicious street food


Another way to save a bit of cash is by opting for the smaller street food vendors as opposed to lavish meals. Every stop on a river cruise can be a gastronomic adventure that doesn't cost the earth.

Why not hop off the boat in Germany and indulge in some currywurst for as little as €3 (£2.10) or a bowl of goulash in Budapest or even a delicious slice of apfelstrudel on the streets of Vienna? All of this glorious fare can be purchased for very little and can keep you fuelled throughout a busy day of sightseeing.

Having something on the go can mean you don't have to slow down your holiday or potentially be hit by an unexpected charge at a restaurant. If you have booked an all-inclusive river cruise you will be able to grab something whilst back on the boat.

Walk, walk, walk

 

couple walking in Italy



One major expenditure that any tourist can be caught out by is transport around a city. If your ship has docked for a couple of days you will be able to explore a little more but you need to be aware of how much public transport and, especially, taxis might cost.

With river cruising you can save on transport costs by exploring on foot because you can always expect to dock in a central location. Walking is an ideal way of navigating around a foreign city and you are more likely to discover some real hidden gems that you otherwise may have missed.

 

Browse our River Cruises, Duoro, Egypt, Mekong

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24 hours in Budapest

clock 6th August 2015 | comment0 Comments

A true jewel of eastern Europe is the Hungarian capital Budapest. Dubbed the 'Paris of the East', the city is one of great beauty and has plenty to see and do.

Sitting on the banks of the Danube, Budapest has become the starting point of many Iglu river cruises voyaging through Hungary onto Slovakia, Austria and Germany. The vast majority of these itineraries include a night or two stay in Budapest, so you should take full advantage of this and spend at least a day exploring this glorious city.

Here is our guide to spending 24 hours in the Hungarian capital.

What to see

When Budapest was formed it brought together the separate cities Buda and Pest, which were split by the Danube. It is now divided into 23 numbered districts, which are still classed in one of the two, Buda covers the west area of the Danube while Pest covers the east. Such is the majesty of Budapest is that it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1987.

It prides itself on having a unique atmosphere and a growing nightlife, not to mention its rich history of classical music. The architecture in the city is truly breathtaking and none more so than the Hungarian National Parliament building, making this the perfect place to start your tour of the city.

Hungarian National Parliament building


The largest building in Europe, this Neo-Gothic structure has stood in the heart of Budapest since the 1880s. With a startling 691 rooms, all more decadent than the last, it is hard not to be overawed by this magnificent structure. It stands in the Lajos Kossuth Square, named after a Hungarian lawyer, politician and Governor-President of the country in 1849, widely respected as a freedom fighter during his life.

Guided tours of the parliament building are available, where you will be able to see the old House of Lords and the Hungarian Crown Jewels. The latter were lost and stolen many times and it wasn't until the end of World War II that they were handed over to the US Army, and did not return to Hungary until 1978.

Another reminder of the scars of the war is much more sombre. On the banks of the Danube, between Kossuth ter and Szechenyi ter, is the Shoes on the Danube memorial. This collection of bronzed shoes has been placed here to honour the Jews who were shot by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen during the war.

There are plenty of free activities across the city and not many are better than a walk across Chain Bridge. The first bridge to connect the Buda and Pest sides of the capital, it was considered to be a wonder of the world when it was completed in 1849 and is often referred to as the 'Pearl of the Danube'.

Budapest Chain Bridge


It was damaged during the war, resulting in a complete rebuild in 1949. It has a connection to the UK, as chief engineer Adam Clark was a master builder hailing from Scotland.

If you are visiting Budapest for the first time then you need to experience just one of the city's many baths. The traditional Turkish baths draw off Budapest's rich thermal waters and some can trace their history back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Take a dip in Rudas, Kiraly or Veli Bej for the ultimate in relaxation.

Arts and culture

Budapest is hugely proud of its arts and culture scene, making a trip to the famous Opera House an absolute must while in the city. This beautiful Neo-Renaissance building has been in Budapest since opening its doors in 1884. It has featured the work of esteemed composers such as Ferenc Liszt and director Gustav Mahler. See a performance here and enjoy a truly immersive experience. It is not just music where Budapest reigns supreme in the cultural stakes. The Museum of Fine Arts and the Ludwig Museum are two absolute musts when it comes to art. The former is dedicated to paintings, drawings and sculptures of European origin and even features the horseman sculpture carved by Leonardo da Vinci.

Budapest Opera House


The Ludwig Museum is a homage to contemporary art of Hungarian and European origin. It displays artworks from the past 50 years, which have been collected by Peter and Irene Ludwig. The pair believe that the museum helps to bring the east and west closer together and features works from the likes of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and Jasper Johns, among others.

Food and drink

If you want to experience some delicious Hungarian cuisine then there is only one place to head to - the Central Market Hall. Officially called Kozponti Vasarcsarnok, it is the largest indoor market in the city and has been here since the 19th century. Selling a large selection of sausages, meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables it will provide a great insight into day-to-day Hungarian life.

You will be able to sample some traditional goulash, which is a meat soup with potatoes and paprika that is normally served as a main dish. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous then sample the toltott kaposzta, a stuffed cabbage filled with meat in a paprika sauce and served with sour cream.

If you have a sweet tooth then why not try a somloi galuska, a poem on biscuit dough, cream and chocolate sauce. A trip to the Central Market will be able to perfectly top off a day in Budapest.

The Danube river is a hugely popular route for top river cruise lines, with Budapest being a must-visit destination along the way. With lines such as AmaWaterways, Saga River Cruises, Avalon Waterways and more visiting this fantastic city, be sure to browse our Danube River cruise deals and be on your way to your Budapest adventure!



The most inspiring museums on the Danube

clock 27th July 2015 | comment0 Comments

The length of the Danube is packed with intriguing cities, each with their own set of remarkable museums, galleries and exhibitions. When you take our 8 Day Danube Cruise, you get plenty of time to explore the likes of Vienna and Budapest at your leisure, but with so many great things to see it helps to have an idea of what’s on offer.

Here are a few of the best museums on the Danube.

Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) - Vienna

 


The romantic city of Vienna certainly isn't lacking when it comes to culture and history. After all, Mozart spent a great deal of time here producing some of his most iconic works. Yet while music is as much a part of Vienna as the Danube itself, it’s the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum) that we recommend you visit if you only have time for one museum. This magnificent gallery, located close to the equally brilliant Imperial Palace, was built in 1891 to house the imperial family's art collections. Today, the art museum contains one of the biggest and best collections in the world, with a number of iconic pieces hanging on its walls. On top of the largest Bruegel collection in existence, you will find Raphael’s "Madonna in the Meadow," as well as works from Rubens, Velasquez, Rembrandt and Vermeer. Address: Maria-Theresien-Platz , 1010 Wien

The House of Terror Museum - Budapest

 


With a name like the House of Terror, you know that you are in for a grisly time in this museum. Housed in the former communist secret police headquarters, this horrifying, yet intriguing museum documents the fate of those who fell foul to the Hungarian fascist and communist regimes of the 20th century.

Many of those who disappeared into the halls of this wicked building were detained, questioned, tortured and even killed here and the exhibitions at the museum take you through the hopeless tales. As the most interesting chapters of history are often the darkest, this museum tops the lot for Budapest. Address: 1062 Budapest, Andrássy út 60.Andrássy út 60.

Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelaende - Nuremberg

Documentation Centre Nazi Party Rally Grounds, or Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelaende, is one of the most fascinating relics from Nazi Germany. This huge parade ground was once the platform from which the Nazis would host their famous rallies and displays of power. Some 50,000 people could attend the rallies from the viewing gallery and by taking in the permanent exhibition "Fascination and Terror", you will gain a better understanding of the effects that these authoritarian displays might have had on the German people. Address: Bayernstraße 110 90478 Nürnberg

 

LENTOS Kunstmuseum (LENTOS Art Museum) - Linz

As a former European capital of culture in 2009, Linz has plenty of clout in the museum department. Explore the realms of biology, Austrian history, literature, and more - there’s even a cowboy museum, if Stetson hats and the Wild West are your thing. However, the pick of the bunch has to be the LENTOS Art Museum. One of Austria’s most important art galleries, LENTOS boasts a stunning collection of Modern Art ranging from the thought-provoking to the downright bizarre.


The building itself is an impressive sight at night as it lights up in different colours. As it’s right on the banks of the Danube, you may catch a glimpse of this impressive museum in the evening as you settle down to dinner. Address: Ernst-Koref-Promenade 1, 4020 Linz, Austria

Bratislava City Museum (Mestske Muzeum) - Bratislava

Learn all about the rich history of Bratislava and the surrounding region in this concise and fascinating museum. The museum was established in 1868 and documents the earliest periods of Slovakia right up until the 20th century. Split into eight museums throughout the city, the main one is the Museum of the City History, which covers every aspect of Bratislava from culture to social life. To top off your visit, head up the tower and enjoy the sensational views of the city's Old Town. Address: Radnicna ul 1, Bratislava 815 18, Slovakia (Staré Mesto)

 

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Cologne's Alternative Attractions

clock 22nd July 2015 | comment0 Comments

Aesthetically pleasing, Cologne is a city with both style and substance. A collection of cultures, from Roman to Germanic, have led to one of the most impressive skylines in Germany, but there’s much more to this city than pretty buildings and chocolate.

Take some time out to explore properly; with our river cruises you have the majority of the day at your disposal, so plan your itinerary well. Here are a few alternative ideas for your day in Cologne.

 

 

Belgian Quarter (Belgisches Viertel)



While the Old Town is well worth a visit for its picturesque architecture, winding alleyways and location to the main tourist attractions, for a glimpse at the alternative side to Cologne head over to the Belgian Quarter (Belgisches Viertel). Hip, trendy, alternative; whatever adjective you want to use to describe this neighbourhood, it’s a great place for shopping, drinking and dining. You’ll find everything here from artisan coffee shops and bars to boutique fashion stores and art shops. The quiet streets are covered in murals and the area is generally much more laid-back and quiet than the more central parts of Cologne.

 

NS Dokumentationszentrum – Gestapo Prison



Because who doesn’t want to explore the grim depths of a former Gestapo prison? In all seriousness though, this museum relays important information about the Nazi secret police’s role in World War II and also acts as a memorial for the Holocaust. Perhaps its best feature is the critically acclaimed “Cologne in the times of National Socialism” exhibition, which tells the story of the city under Hitler’s rule and it a permanent collection. The building itself is fully intact from the war era, which is quite remarkable considering the amount of bombs the allies dropped on Cologne. A must-visit for history buffs who love to learn about the darker side of European history.

 

Ehrenfeld



Similar to the Belgian Quarter, but with a little bit more art, Ehrenfeld is another lively, yet trendy part of the city. Here, you will find an abundance of original art studios, quaint cafes and one-of-a-kind shops as well as plenty of stunning street art in mural form. Very much the creative heart of the city, the "Coloneum" movie production house and media centre resides here as well as the area’s landmark the Helios-lighthouse; the former home of the famous German electrical engineering company. A largely residential area, this part of the city is slightly further away from the centre but not too far that you can’t get there easily on Cologne’s impressive public transport network. A number of light rail stations connect you to the area through the Cologne Stadtbahn line. Take either 3, 4, 5 or 13 to get there.

 

 

Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum


A museum that takes you on a journey of the world, the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum is three floors of interactive fun where touching the exhibits is all part of the experience. The first thing that strikes you about this place is the Sulawesi rice boat that hangs in the lobby. From here, you are welcomed to explore the lives of others from cultures all over the planet. Part history lesson, part insight into human diversity, the entire museum is a truly remarkable look at different people, and perhaps how we aren’t all that different.

 

Cologne Cathedral

Although not alternative, no trip to Cologne is complete without a trip to its magnificent Cathedral. This massive church is located right in the centre of the city and, due to its huge size, it’s quite hard to miss. Its status as northern Europe’s largest Gothic church has made it one of Germany’s most popular landmarks so, like we said, it’s hardly off the beaten track

 

 

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